The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Network (MISSION) Act includes provisions to expand benefits for veterans’ caregivers, ensure safe opioid prescribing practices and better train doctors to meet veterans’ needs.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) supported this legislation, which the Senate passed by a 92-5 vote on May 23.
“I strongly support the innovative reforms in the VA MISSION Act, and I’m pleased the president has signed this bill into law,” Portman said. “It’s appropriate that this bill becomes law on the anniversary of D-Day, as we stop to reflect on the bravery of our soldiers on the beaches of Normandy 74 years ago.
“This bill puts the needs of veterans first by giving them the option of seeking care when and where it makes the most sense for their health care needs,” Portman continued. “In addition, the bill helps improve existing VA health care and services by strengthening opioid prescription guidelines for non-VA providers, removing barriers for VA health care professionals to practice telemedicine, and providing new tools for attracting and retaining VA health care professionals.
“Our veterans fought to protect our freedoms and ensure our way of life, and we are eternally grateful for their service and sacrifice. We have a responsibility to take care of them, and this bill will make needed changes at the VA to help fulfill that promise,” Portman concluded.
Brow, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the bill includes several provisions he authored, including:
• Expanding caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras. Previously, comprehensive caregiver assistance and benefits were provided only to veterans injured on or after September 11, 2001, leaving family caregivers and veterans injured during World War II, the Korean, Vietnam and 1990-1991 Gulf War ineligible for this critical support (learn more).
• Giving specific training to doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system on how to address veterans’ unique medical needs (learn more).
• Ensuring safe opioid prescribing practices for doctors and healthcare providers outside the VA system.
“We owe all of our veterans — and the families who support them – our gratitude, our respect, and the highest-quality healthcare,” Brown said. “We still have work to do to support and improve VA, but this bill is an important step forward to provide for our veterans and the people who care for them.”
The VA had long claimed a key health care program could run out of money by May 31 if lawmakers did not rush to pass new legislation to fund the VA. But the date came and went without Trump signing the new VA MISSION Act and the Veterans Choice Program was still solvent.
Former acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, now the expected nominee to lead the agency, told Congress in early May that the Choice program would be depleted as early as May 31. The program pays for veterans to receive health care from private medical facilities when they can’t get an appointment at a VA facility.
If Congress didn’t act, it would disrupt medical appointments and have a “dramatic, negative impact on our veteran population,” Wilkie wrote to lawmakers at the time.
Congress approved massive VA reforms May 23 that, in part, includes $5.2 billion to keep the Choice program running for one year. Trump insisted lawmakers pass the bill before Memorial Day, but he waited until Wednesday to sign it.
A week ago today, the VA insisted the program had enough money to keep it going until Trump signs the VA Mission Act.
“The Choice program has sufficient funding to continue normal operations uninterrupted until the Mission Act is signed into law,” VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour wrote in an email.
In addition to averting a funding crisis with the Choice program, the MISSION Act increases veterans’ access to private-sector health care and extends benefits to more veteran caregivers. Its cost is estimated at $52 billion.
The VA MISSION Act improves access to health care for veterans and streamlines a number of veteran programs.
“We owe it to our veterans to ensure that the promises made to them are kept,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green). “The current VA Choice program is too difficult and cumbersome for many veterans to use. I've worked to expand access to cancer treatment for veterans in Ohio's 5th Congressional District because of rigid requirements under VA Choice, and the signing of the VA MISSION Act will help solve this problem.
“By allowing more flexibility in the way the program is administered, many veterans will be able to seek care closer to home. In addition, the bill levels the playing field for pre- and post-9/11 veteran caregivers and streamlines a number of VA programs.
“The VA MISSION Act makes the necessary reforms to programs that support our veterans, and it is supported by every major veterans service organization,” Latta continued. “I applaud President Trump signing this legislation into law (Wednesday) afternoon.”
Latta had previously authored the Veterans Cancer Treatment Flexibility Act to provide increased access to cancer treatment for veterans in his district. A number of veterans in the district have to travel to the Toledo VA before being bussed to Ann Arbor for cancer treatment. The VA MISSION Act will help solve this problem by providing more flexibility to the VA regarding the VA Choice program that will allow veterans to seek care closer to where they live.
Also Wednesday, Brown and Portman said they applauded the Senate for passing their bipartisan legislation, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act, which would congressionally designate the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus.
This museum will provide an important venue to honor America’s veterans and educate the American people about their sacrifice. Representatives Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) introduced companion legislation that passed the House. The legislation will now go to the president for signature.
“Our veterans fought to protect our freedoms and ensure our way of life, and we are eternally grateful for their service to our country,” Portman said. “It is important that future generations know about the selfless sacrifices made by so many men and women of the armed forces and their families. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus is one way we can commemorate not only brave Ohioans, but all American veterans, and I’m pleased the Senate passed this legislation today. I look forward to the president signing this bipartisan bill into law."
“Ohioans are grateful for the sacrifice and service of our veterans and their families,” Brown said. “The National Veterans Museum and Memorial will honor all America’s veterans and attract new attention to this important landmark.”
This bipartisan legislation, which was introduced last year, will congressionally designate the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum’s mission is to:
• Honor Ohioans contributions through military service.
• Connect civilians with veterans and their military experience.
• Educate schoolchildren about the history and value of service.
In addition, the museum will host events for active duty and retired military members, including homecoming ceremonies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nikki Wentling of Stars and Stripes (TNS) contributed to this story.